Patchwork house to make way for new town homes

Above, the Haugland home at 2970 76th Ave. S.E. on the slope just behind the Farmers Insurance building.  - Mary L. Grady / Staff Photo
Above, the Haugland home at 2970 76th Ave. S.E. on the slope just behind the Farmers Insurance building.
— image credit: Mary L. Grady / Staff Photo

Demolition has begun at two adjoining properties at 2960 and 2970 76th Avenue N.E. The two properties will be developed into 16 town homes on the slope behind Farmers Insurance. The two lots together sold for $2.3 million last year.

The 2970 lot was owned by Renwick Haugland who, with his first wife, bought land at 2970 76th Ave. S.E. in 1957 for $3,500. There was a 12 by 12 ft. cabin on the land.

Haugland was an artist whose art extended from ink and paint to hammer and nails.  Over the next 40-some years Haugland lived on the property, the home morphed into a 2,500-plus square foot structure in a series of additions that stair-stepped down the slope of the hillside. A story in the Mercer Island Reporter, in 1980 described the home as a “patchwork quilt” built with scrounged materials — an "architect's nightmare.”

Haugland was a Boeing illustrator who later became an art teacher in Island schools between 1961 and 1974. He quit teaching to attend graduate school in fine arts. After graduate school he opened a portrait studio on Pier 70 in Seattle. The artist was one of the organizers of the present day Mercer Island Visual Arts League (MIVAL).

Larry Sarchin, a long time resident, who lives just half a block from the old house, remembers Haugland who was his art teacher at the old North Mercer Junior High School. Constant building and creating was the hallmark of the artist's life, Sarchin said.

Last week, Sarchin saw the heavy equipment parked at the Haugland’s home, now long abandoned, and called the Reporter. He took a look inside (there is no front door on the structure) and saw several pieces of art that had been left behind. He brought them out and is storing them for safekeeping. He hopes that MIVAL will take them or have a special showing at some point.

At North Mercer, Sarchin remembers Haugland as having an accent. The adolescents of course, made fun of the teacher. But if Haugland knew, he did not seem to mind, Sarchin said. “He was pretty laid back, he didn't worry about what we said. "‘He got us,’” he remembered. “He was a good teacher.”

The 1980 Reporter story described the home as a “fairytale playground” for Haugland’s children and their friends. At various times the lot included a tree house, a trampoline, an outdoor fish pond, a hutch for bunnies, and even a so-called skyride.

Last week, it was easy to see those descriptions come to life in the old house. Random rooms were tacked on to the existing structure joined with narrow staircases and passageways. There were equally narrow decks on the side of the additions with rickety handrails. There were balconies inside the house with storage here and there under the eaves. The remnants of the pond, the bunny hutch and the skyride remain on the slope.

Haugland even admitted that it was an unusual place — not a place anyone would design on purpose.

“I tend to think of it growing like a city grows — kind of haphazardly,” he told the Reporter so many years ago.

Haugland also said that he liked the privacy of the lot his home and its location offered. It was sort of like a mountain cabin, he said. He cherished the dense woods. And that feeling was threatened when several trees that bordered his property were taken down when the old bowling alley was demolished to make way for the new Farmers Insurance building.

Even in 1980, Haugland saw the future. He said then that he considered it inevitable that eventually the rest of his neighborhood would be rezoned for condos. “Eventually I suppose I will sell out,” he said. “It will undoubtedly be torn down.”

Plans for the property depict a triangular configuration of town homes built into the slope. The three-story homes, designed by Seattle firm Milbrandt Architects, would range in size from 1,900 to 2,400 square feet and would operate as “fee simple” town homes, meaning homeowners would have complete ownership of the home and the land underneath their unit.


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